Are User-Generated Issues Worth It?
Free content is tempting, but someone still has to edit it.
For its 10th anniversary issue in June, Budget Travel solicited some 2,800 pitches from readers, using them to generate all of the text and photography to create a 100 percent user-generated issue of the magazine.
The same month, This Old House became the first Time Inc. title to publish a 100 percent user-generated issue, with a âYour Old Houseâ logo overlay on the cover.
BusinessWeek plans to publish a double issue in August filled with user-generated content focused on workplace challenges. Topics include âwork-life balance, staying entrepreneurial, toxic bosses, time-management, negotiating bureaucracy, and generational tension.â
While user-generated content gets the buzz online, most editors have largely been reluctant to turn over pages from their shrinking print folios to readers.
And with shrinkingâin some cases, frozenâeditorial budgets, the idea of employing user-generated content, rather than paying freelancers, is tempting. But if youâre thinking youâll save money on a user-generated issue, be forewarned: editing users isnât easy, and may actually cost you more in the long run.
Budget Travel picked up 324 contributors for the issue. A piece called â50 Reasons You Love New Yorkâ elicited 500 submissions alone.âLetâs be perfectly clear,â Budget Travel editor Erik Torkells wrote in a recent blog post for FOLIOmag.com. âMaking this issue was neither cheap nor easy.â
The magazine paid ânormal feesâ (about $1 a word) to its contributors, Torkells says, as well as travel expenses for companionsââsomething we donât do for professional writers.â (Sending a family of four to Hong Kong, Torkells says, blew out the magazineâs travel budget, no pun intended.)
But without an âextraordinary amountâ of âdeft editing,â the issue âwouldâve been a mess,â he says. âEditing non-professional writers is never easy, especially when youâre asking them to write long.â
This Old House had a similar experience in producing their user-gen issue. Executive editor Kathryn Keller says the magazine received thousands of e-mails, letters, photos and projects since editor Scott Omelianukâs first call for submissions in his December editorâs letter.
In addition to the letter, the magazine created a dedicated microsite for readers to upload materials and then called for submissions at the end of magazine stories, in e-mail blasts and during the credits of the This Old House television show.
Although ad pages were up 3 percent over the same issue last year (which was created by the in-house staff), publisher Matt Turck says that the magazine âactually had to invest a little more than usualâ to create it, due in part to the costs associated with building and managing the microsite. However, he says, âit was an advertiser success and early signs show a consumer successâwe plan to do it again.â
The concept of a user-generated magazine is not new. In fact, itâs already been done in the travel category. 8020 Publishingâs Everywhere magazineâcomprised entirely of user-generated content on travelâwas launched in 2007 after 8020âs successful launch JPG, a magazine is comprised entirely of submitted photography.
Itâs a nod, Torkells says, to one of the major changes to have affected the travel industry in the past 10 yearsânamely, that consumers are turning to each other as much as to so-called experts for planning their trips. âYou still need editors,â Torkells says of Everywhere, adding that thereâs a âbroad, service elementâ to Budget Travelâs issue that Everywhere doesnât have.
Larger magazines have dabbled in user-gen, too. Wired has experimented with user-generated content in the magazine and on special covers; Dennis Publishing recently announced that its Bizarre magazine in the U.K. would relaunch with a direct focus on user-generated content; and magazines such as Time and Esquire have devoted feedback-style sections to content generated on their Web sites.
Torkells says he plans to do another user-generated Budget Travel issue in 2009. âIn the future,â Torkells says, âlove it or hate it, an editorâs role will be to lead a conversation, not deliver a monologue.â
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